GUEST COMMENTARY: Life is just a four-letter word

By Mitchell Jon MacKay of East Jordan

OR 12-LETTER-HYPHENATED AS THE CASE MAY BE, which is nothing other than scatology or an ethnic slur for shock-effect satire.

Bodily parts and functions, Schmuck or Chutzpah for instance, express disdain or notability for a socially ostracized person or to emphasize marked approval—or disapproval—of persons, places, things gas-lighted.

Linguistically, swearwords are usually nouns or combinations of adjective-noun.

The word used by Representative Rashida Tlaib recently means, as per Webster, “a mean, despicable or vicious person … contempt or anger” implied.


“Obscenities, who really cares?” as Nobel Poet Bob Dylan sang, expresses the absurdity with which social faux pas is regarded by those of us who view society as multiple branches on a tree growing from out a trunk long manifesting, a sociologist’s or anthropologist’s genitive genetic classification.

Those of us familiarized with inner city life, which entails most educational centers, are aware of that now termed Ebonics, more or less the African-American “code-switch” mode of communicating.

Slang in all its forms is not limited to Black jargon though, but much of Western culture stems from Black input linguistically as well as musically.

The United States in particular assimilated many cultures in settling on the “melting pot” linguistic form called American English.

It is rather prudish to exclusively deride street dialect as improper even if we do not deign to use it ourselves.

There is in fact great emphasis to be derived from improper usage in moments of which there is no replacement expression of decorum available to convey a meaning that would otherwise require lengthy explanation.

The ubiquitous teenager who uses slanguage with his and her friends often will not do so at home with family and company.

Schools generally do not tolerate slang in classrooms but as everybody knows the grounds surrounding are free spaces slanguistically.

Recently the parameters have slackened considerably as witnessed on television though not in mainstream press, radio or internet as yet.

Nightclub acts have been stretching boundaries for decades, near a century in modern times, no doubt inveterately in earlier centuries when bawdy humor and song were heard in taverns and party get-togethers.

It is both acceptable and unacceptable dependent upon time and place, audience and appropriateness.  As Leonard Cohen said early career, “There are no dirty words, ever.”

Actually, we were scarcely aware of Rashida Tlaib but for campaign pitches via internet until she uttered those fateful words.

It has a sense of deliberation that could not be delivered otherwise.

It accents counterpoise of political dialectic.

As she says after the fact, more people want to ask about her vocabulary than her political view, a sure sign that sensationalism still reigns despite American interdiction.

To her credit she did not rescind her statement or express regrets, it just happened in normal conversation.

The point was well taken and everybody leastways subliminally, viscerally incorporates that, even those who were shocked, shocked at the vernacular means of conveying the wish that a growing number of Americans feel no matter how they vocalize it.

Of course, expression is easily managed without use of any derogatory words.  LOLITA the story uses no words of sensual derivative, books such as LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER or PEYTON PLACE hedged on seductive vocabulary, but overall the subject was covered with generally sedate verbiage, everyday philological satiety, point made, end of story.

Kids were looking for something that wasn’t quite there but only hinted and imagined.

That has changed in the past fifty years markedly but that descends into what we call smut, usually another name for drivel because the prose usually amounts to no more than that.

OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS by Jean Genet is exemplary of using Le Pissoir language to tell literary socio-anthropology dramaturgy of a subculture that is lately assuming its own stature, take it or leave it.

LGBTQ same thing, available wherever such cultural seekers hover, even in established periodicals.

What Ms. Tlaib has ventured to do, wittingly or other, is bring the issue to the table politically and philosophically.

And it’s funny.

As writer Hermann Hesse explicated in his STEPPENWOLF novel, “the dawning light of humor” when once encountered through whatever mental miasmas is cathartic and enlightening.

Language is after all merely a means of conveying thought and scrivening it along with historical etymology.

Standard dictionaries contain many formerly verboten words and slang dictionaries cover the rest.

Having managed this entire article without a single swearword we see it is possible without expletives.

Sometimes BILL MAHER seems extraneously scatological as if at a private party, plausibly referenced by his road traveling engagements where it is expected and even foreshadowed, like Lenny Bruce a groundbreaker follow-up.

Rashida Tlaib spoke midst hubbub of campaign victory.

We probably won’t recurrently be so anticipatorily graced.